Spiel des Lebens
© Frank Bauer

Desert flower

  • TEXT STEFAN WAGNER
  • PHOTOS FRANK BAUER

In Las Vegas, dreams can come true as swiftly as the winds that blow in from the desert. But the city also has its share of people who have found true happiness in the capital of glitz. Meet some of them, who told us how.

WHERE CRAZINESS IS NORMAL


Las Vegas is part volcanic eruption, part Roland Emmerich film and partly like the fall of Rome – but with a soundtrack. It’s an overblown orgy of neon lights, showgirls, stretch limousines and the eternal ding-ding-ding of one-armed bandits – an intoxicating mix most visitors indulge in for just two or three days before returning home to recover. But what’s it like to actually live in a city that celebrates its exceptional state of crazy every day anew? And why would anyone want to spend their life in an unrealistic setting like that of “Sin City,” as the place is also known? We met a few people for whom it’s quite normal to work in an Eiffel Tower replica in the middle of the desert or to slip into an Elvis costume every morning to marry couples in a kitsch-themed chapel.

Spiel des Lebens

Still a fabulous photo opportunity 60 years on: the legendary Las Vegas welcome sign

© Frank Bauer
Spiel des Lebens
© Frank Bauer
Spiel des Lebens

Too tall: All you can eat and more at the Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas

© Frank Bauer
Spiel des Lebens
© Frank Bauer

ELVIS PRIEST
Brendan Paul, 45


“How did I become a priest in an Elvis chapel? When I was 22 and playing with my punk band in Vegas, I entered an Elvis contest for the heck of it. It was so much fun I decided to get a job impersonating The King – plus, the money’s really good. Then, 15 years ago, I bought the Graceland Wedding Chapel for a million dollars. It was built in 1947 and it’s one of the oldest and most famous wedding chapels in Las Vegas. All I had to do to obtain my license to officiate at weddings was take a couple of classes. Although we marry around 4000 couples every year here, for me, weddings are still a very moving affair because the way I see it, it’s the most important day in a couple’s relationship. We do draw the line at some things, though; it’s fine to be tipsy when you tie the knot, but not drunk. Also, we regularly receive requests to host nudist weddings, but we don’t do them, either. Otherwise, it makes no difference whether a couple books the 199-dollar wedding that includes two Elvis songs or the 799-dollar package featuring a young Elvis from the 1950s and an older Elvis in Seventies-style flares. We always put everything we’ve got into the ceremony. I was really touched by one couple who booked us to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. On the appointed the day, the woman turned up on her own with a framed photo of her husband. He had recently passed away but she wanted to go ahead with the ceremony anyway. I was all choked up at first and my voice almost failed me. I will always love Elvis’s songs, even if I’ve sung them thousands of times. They’re simply classics. Sometimes I’ll be singing ‘Love Me Tender’ and thinking about whether I have everything I need in my fridge at home, but I keep on smiling and no one notices a thing. That’s show business, baby!”

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View from the "Eifel Tower": Vearn Rogers, who mans the elevator at the Paris Las Vegas hotel, is a walking encyclopedia

© Frank Bauer

ELEVATOR OPERATOR
Vearn Rogers, 58


“I work in the center of Paris, in the middle of America, on the observation platform of the Eiffel Tower. It’s 164.6 meters tall – about half the height of the original. I used to be just an elevator operator here at the Paris Las Vegas hotel. Then one day, a guest asked me: ‘Is that all you do? Press a button and stand in an elevator?’ That got to me – particularly because he was right. So I sat myself down and learned everything there is to learn about Las Vegas. And now I’ve been sharing my knowledge with the visitors in the elevator and on the platform. You want facts and figures? Here we go! Las Vegas was founded in 1905. The name is Spanish and means floodplains because there are springs here. Around 40 million visitors come to the city every year, and each of them visits eight casinos on the average, with 74 percent trying their hand at gambling. Each gambler spends an average of 530 dollars. There are 104 casinos in Las Vegas, over 147 000 hotel rooms and roughly 21 000 fairs and conventions each year. By the way, the casino strip isn’t actually in Las Vegas itself, but in a suburb called ­Paradise. When it comes to the Strip, though, everyone talks about Las Vegas. From the 1940s through the 1980s, the city was firmly in the hand of the Mob, as organized crime was ­referred to here. Why do I like Las Vegas? I’m from Compton, a suburb of Los Angeles, where gang crime is rife. When I first came to Las Vegas in 1984, I could get an all-you-can-eat breakfast for 49 cents, and walking through the streets, I noticed that practically everyone was smiling. They looked like they were having a good time and felt good. That hasn’t changed – and that’s why I live here.”

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Far more colorful than she appears: Graffiti artist Mallory Dawn

© Frank Bauer
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An example of her work

© Frank Bauer

GRAFFITI ARTIST
Mallory Dawn, 34


“When I was a kid growing up in Ohio, I would dream of sitting at an easel in a park in Paris, describing life with my paintbrush, but things worked out very differently. I started out working as a waitress and in a boutique and then went on to study fashion in New York. While on a trip to Vegas for a friend’s bachelorette party, I was simply bowled over by the city and decided to move here. Why? Because I don’t feel so restricted, probably because Las Vegas is located in the middle of the desert. It feels a little like I’m standing in front of an empty canvas. These days, I’ve made something of a name for myself as an artist here. My airbrush and graffiti artworks can be seen all over the place – on the walls of clubs and casinos, in private villas and in restaurants and museums. There’s an installation of mine at the Cosmopolitan Hotel. I made it using several thousand plastic key cards, which I sewed together, one by one, with copper wire. When I’m not out and about, I’m happiest painting in my underwear. That way, I don’t have to keep buying new clothes because my other ones are covered in splashes of paint. Also, it’s unbearably hot in the the city during the day. That’s why I prefer to work at night – which is when you can often see me up a ladder somewhere with my breathing mask on and a spray can in my hand, painting a house wall. Afterwards, back at my apartment on the 18th floor of a skyscraper in downtown Vegas, I sit on my balcony and let my gaze roam the skyline. That’s when I know that I made the right decision.
I don’t need a park in Paris anymore.”

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The natural face of Las Vegas: Brittany Brooks, a ranger at Red Rock Canyon Park

© Frank Bauer
Spiel des Lebens
© Frank Bauer

RANGER
Brittany Brooks, 32


“People tend to reduce Las Vegas to the following cliché: casinos, shows, parties and wild nightlife. We rangers represent the other side of the spectrum: experiencing nature, silently observing, feeling small in the face of the wonders that surround us. After a few days, most tourists tire of the city’s craziness and long to get out into nature. Luckily, Vegas is surrounded by desert, mountains and national parks. It’s just a 20-minute drive from downtown to the next hiking trail. I work at the Red Rock Canyon Park, which starts at the city limits. Set out early enough and you won’t see more than a handful of people, but you will see coyotes, tortoises and wild donkeys. Why do I work as a ranger in Las Vegas of all places? Two years ago, Gregory, my husband, was offered a job in the area. He’s a biologist, and his specialty is a particular species of beetle that lives in the sand dunes near here. I had never been to Nevada and thought it was one of those places where every­one wants to stay indoors with the air conditioning on when the temperature hits 40° Celsius outside. Now I see it’s quite different. There are mountain bikers, ­skiers, climbers and mountain runners here. To be honest:
I never want to leave.”

Five reasons to board a plane for the desert


Spiel des Lebens
© Cristóbal Schmal

HEDONIST HEAVEN

How about dinner in tycoon David Rockefeller’s library? Star chef Daniel Humm’s restaurant at the new NoMad Hotel looks so opulent and plushy that it’s easy to foget you are in garish, glittering Vegas.

thenomadhotel.com

Spiel des Lebens
© Cristóbal Schmal

ART FOR A CHANGE

Comprising  more than 18 blocks of bars and art galleries, the Arts District near Fremont Street is a real alternative to the strip. In the ReBar and the Arts Factory, you meet more locals than tourists.

18b.org

Spiel des Lebens
© Cristóbal Schmal

TWICE THE LADY

The Park MGM has secured Lady Gaga for a two-show residency this fall: In “Enigma,” she meets a 3D-animated android, while   “Jazz and Piano” sees her at the piano in classic mode and evening gown.

vegas.ladygaga.com

Spiel des Lebens
© Cristóbal Schmal

RECORD OVERHAUL

The Palms Resort has just spent 690 million dollars on  the costliest refurbishment in the history of Las Vegas. A statue of Damien Hirst now presides at the pool, while works by Andy Warhol grace the walls in the bar.

palms.com

Spiel des Lebens
© Cristóbal Schmal

DRINKS ON DEMAND

Just won at the roulette table? Then it’s time to head to the Art Déco Rosina bar to press the Champagne call button. Your waiter will appear immediately to fill your glass – with a gimlet or a negroni, if you prefer.

venetian.com


Getting there

Starting October 27, Lufthansa is offering three weekly flights from Frankfurt (FRA) to Las Vegas (LAS) in cooperation with Eurowings. Use the app to calculate your miles: miles-and-more.com/app